Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “wealth redistribution”

Obscenity

A new breed of South Africans is emerging, a new subculture, perhaps. It is composed of those who do not merely want to be rich, but who want be filthy, stinking rich; obscenely rich.

One of the things that one often hears is that crime is caused by poverty. But that is not strictly true. Criminologists who have researched the matter report that in societies where people are very poor, there is often relatively little crime. What causes the crime rate to rise is the income gap between the rich and the poor.

My blogging friend Dion Forster notes another effect of the income gap between rich and poor — it can lead to genocide — Wishes of youth and the winds of war – I was a soldier once – BLOG – Dion Forster – An uncommon path:

In Fiennes’ book he notes, among other things, that the conditions that are necessary for genocide to occur include:

  • An impoverished population
  • A large gap between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘do not have’
  • A clearly identifiable minority grouping that has access to wealth and power
  • The development of a racial or ethnic ideology that places groups of persons in opposition to one another
  • Corrupt, power hungry and irresponsible politicians

I wondered how many of these elements could be ticked off a list of criteria in South African society? We have much work to do in order to bring equality, overcome animosity, and combat false and harmful racial and ethnic ideologies.

A few days ago I noted in another blog post Black and white perceptions of South Africa’s problems | Khanya:

People sometimes like to talk about poverty as the cause of crime. But it is much less common for people to talk about it the other way round — of crime as the cause of poverty. Yet much of the poverty in places like Mamelodi is caused by crime — white crime.

Two of the ways in which people achieve their ambition to become filthy stinking rich are politics and crime. Criminologists who have noted that the crime rate increases where the gap between rich and poor increases have also noticed that criminals do not generally rob and steal to feed their starving families. They steal because they want to be filthy stinking rich. Their ill-gotten gains are used for conspicuous consumption.

As for politics, we all know about tenderpreneurs. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of the ANC and South Africa, spoke on this phenomenon at the very conference where the ANC voted him out as leader — that unscrupulous businessmen tried to take over ANC branches, and get themselves or their favoured candidates elected at the branches in areas that controlled municipalitries, and used their position to get lucrative contracts and tenders.

This is not unique to South Africa, it is found all over the world.

There are those who still say that the ANC has not made the mental transition from liberation movement to a political party. But the problerm is the other way round. Those who remember what it was to be a liberation movement are a diminishing minority, and are being swamped by those who see politics as a means of becoming filthy stinking rich.

In writing this, I’m not being an investigative journalist. I’m not trying to dig up the dirt on corrupt politicians and businessmen. I haven’t named names nor cited instances of these things in footnotes. I’ve written about perceptions, about gossip, about impressions. And the purpose is not to find and condemn the guilty.

Our struggle, as St Paul says, is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies (Eph 6:10-12).

The problem is not individual sinners, but sin itself.

And the problem is not merely individual sins, but rather the inversion of values.

As Isaiah says:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)

Those who desire to be filthy stinking rich do so because of greed.

Christians in the past have seen greed and lust as passions that we should seek to control. But there are new ideologies abroad in the world that seek to invert this, and say that passions like greed and lust are good.

And so we find people, even people who claim to be Christians, saying that it’s OK to help the poor, but not by taking money from the rich “at gunpoint”. The “at gunpoint” is a peculiar code word among such people for “taxes”. What they mean is that money from taxes paid by the rich should not be used to help the poor. That, they say, is “theft”.

And so they invert Christian values; they call evil good and good evil.

St John Chrysostom says precisely the opposite:

“See the man,” He says, “and his works: indeed, this also is theft, not to share one’s possessions.” Perhaps this statement seems surprising to you, but do not be surprised. I shall bring you testimony from the divine Scriptures, saying that not only the theft of others’ goods but the failure to share one’s own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation. What is this testimony? Accusing the Jews by the prophet, God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses.” Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, he says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere the Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.” To deprive is to take what belongs to another, for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others.

Thus if the government uses the taxes paid by the rich to provide basic necessities for the poor, such as housing or health services, it is not theft, but rather the recovery of stolen property. To call taxes used in such a way “theft” is to invert Christian values, and to call good evil and evil good.

Adulterers may repent. Thieves may repent. Murderers may repent. And when we experience lust or greed or other passions we may repent and struggle against them.

But those who call greed and lust good cannot repent.

This ideological inversion was propounded by Ayn Rand in the 1940s and 1950s, and spread to the institutions of state and society in the West, especially in the 1980s, until it has now permeated much of society and people’s values as the insidious propaganda for it continues and increases.

We may never be able to remove inequalities of wealth; we may never be able to eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor. But we can and ought to resist the ideology that says that it is a good thing, and that the passions that maintain it are to be encouraged.

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This post is part of the February 2012 Synchroblog – Extreme Economic Inequality | synchroblog in which different bloggers write blog posts on the same theme, and provide a list of the other posts so that people can follow the theme by surfing from one post to another.

Other posts in this month’s Synchroblog are:

Rob Bell go to hell

It sounds like the kind of chant that could be used by street demonstrators and protesters, like “Turkish troops: out of Cyprus” — “Rob Bell: go to hell”. Lots of my Protestant blogging friends have been writing about the tizwoz in the blogosphere that has greeted the publication of a book on hell by a fellow called Rob Bell. Julie Clawson, it seems, was one of the few who had actually read the book before writing about it at Love Wins – A Review | onehandclapping:

Whether it was a brilliant marketing strategy or just a sad reflection of the charged atmosphere of Christian dialogue these days, one cannot deny that Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins has stirred up a load of controversy before it has even hit the shelves. As a book claiming the daunting task of being “A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” the uproar was understandable although disappointingly cruel at times. For some reason many Christians hold to the notion that where we go when we die is the most important aspect of our faith and thus get rather up in arms when people even dare to open that topic up for conversation. Bell deftly addresses the need to re-prioritize what is central to our faith, but more on that in a moment. Let me first get the controversial stuff out of the way.

Tall Skinny Kiwi: Who has the skinny on hell? notes that “‘Farewell Rob Bell’ has probably become the most famous Christian tweet of all time”. Then there’s Stoking The Religious Fires With Rob Bell by Jonathan Brink. And so it goes.

I’m not going to add to the blog posts about the book because I haven’t read it, and on the subject of Hell I have little to say other that what I have already said in two other blog posts at Hell became afraid and Go to Hell! | Khanya.

So why am I writing this?

It is mainly because I went back to read those two previous posts as a result the flurry of posts about this book, and was struck by some of the comments on the second of them.

I had noted that in the New Testament when Jesus talks about going to hell he does so mainly in the context of wealth accumulation and redistribution. Specifically, he teaches that those who accumulate wealth and fail to redistribute it are going to hell (in the parables of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment, and the rich man and Lazarus). Yet this emphasis seems to be lacking in the blog posts of those who seem to be most upset by Rob Bell’s alleged threat to the doctrine of hell.

And a lot of the commenters on the post at Go to Hell! | Khanya seemed to be obssessed with a point that seem (to me at least) quite peripheral to the parables. For them the question of whether or not Lazarus got health care was unimportant. And whether he got it or didn’t get from the rich man or from the dogs was unimportant. The really important point was that it should not come from the government. This, it seems, is the first and greatest commandment, which supersedes the law, the prophets, the Fathers of the Church, and indeed the gospel itself.

They seemed to regard any use by “the government” of tax-funded resources to relieve suffering as the worst possible form of theft.

And that led me to thinking about the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. Various governments of various countries offered to send help, and many of the “search and rescue” teams looking for survivors were government funded. US president Barack Obama even offered the services of a US government-funded aircraft carrier that happened to be in the vicinity of Japan.

Some of those who have offered and provided help are NGOs, and therefore, one hopes, not stigmatised with the “theft” accusations in their effort to rescue and help survivors. Such, for example are Rescue SA to search for survivors – Times LIVE:

The South African search and rescue team that left for Japan last night will have the grim task of helping to search for survivors in the devastated town of Ishinomaki.

Half of the town, with a population of about 16500, was engulfed by the tsunami triggered by Friday’s earthquake. The town is 60km north of Sendai and 100km west of the quake’s epicentre.

I just hope they don’t use government funded helicopters in their work!

And then there is International Orthodox Christian Charities:

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) has been in contact with the Holy Autonomous Orthodox Church in Japan and our ACT Alliance partners to assess the emerging needs following the massive earthquake and tsunami which devastated north eastern Japan on March 11. IOCC is also reaching out to the Metropolis of Korea which is also the Exarchate for Japan under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As the Orthodox Church in Japan works to assess the needs of survivors, it reports that one priest in Tohoku, Japan is missing.

‘Most of the church buildings in Tohoku parish along the Pacific coast are severely damaged and one priest is missing,’ reports Fr. Demitrios Tanaka of the Holy Autonomous Orthodox Church in Japan. ‘However, we confirmed that the clergy of Sendai Orthodox Church, including Bishop Seraphim, are safe.’

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